On its first live disc this alt-klezmer band chooses to celebrate the theme of liberation from bondage, but not only in the strict Jewish context or heritage, usually focused around the Passover and the story of Exodus, the liberation from slavery in Egypt. The Klezmatics, together with black Jewish gospel singer Joshua Nelson, find inspiration in the freedom songs and spirituals from the African-American tradition that celebrate the struggle for emancipation during the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, identifying a common theme of social justice in both musical traditions.
But as usual, the Klezmatics do not only celebrate a glorified past, but present these messages of struggle for social justice as something more relevant today than it was in the past. And it's not only about the gospelit is mainly about the music: a joyful celebration of soul and rhythm & blues fused with ecstatic eastern European Yiddish music. It was a symbolic act to record this concert at the Potsdam Platz in the heart of Berlin last July, where only sixty years ago one of the most racist regimes ruled.
The concert begins with the traditional Jewish song "Eyliyohu Hanovi" (Prophet Elijah), which is sung during the Passover Seder, when each family open its door to invite the homeless and the hungry. Frank London trumpet solo accompanies the Klezmatics' Sklamberg's devotional vocals, which are followed by an electrified version of Mahalia Jackson's spiritual "Elijah Rock," led by Nelson's roaring vocals. They continue with one of the Klezmatics' staple songs, "Shnirele, Perele," calling for the Messiah to come and bring peace to all peoples in the land of Israel. Nelson add his high cantorial vocals to the sweet chanting of Sklamberg.
The African-American spiritual "Go Down Moses," the catalyst for this project, now a standard in some modern Passover Seders as well as some jazz circles (check out the 1995 Verve release by Charlie Haden and Hank Jones, Steal Away), is sung soulfully by Kathryn Farmer, who trades solos on the Hammond B3 with the alto sax of the Klezmatics' Matt Darriau.
"Moses Smote The Water" is sung a cappella, and Sklamberg, who learned the song from the Golden Gate Quartet '78 album as a kid, leads the choir. Sam Cooke's inspirational transformation of the spiritual "Oh Mary Don't You Weep" gets a new reading that celebrates both versions. While Nelson sings his version of Jackson's biblical tale of Noah and the Ark, "Didn't it Rain," accompanied by the Joshettes (Sklamberg, Farmer, and the Klezmatics' Lisa Gutkin), the skies open up in a sudden downpour in an amazing transcendent moment. The Klezmatics close this concert with their signature anthem, "Ale Brider," an ad lib Yiddish Socialist cry for universal brotherhood/sisterhood and a dedication to make this world a better place.
A beautiful musical statement from a band that dares to explore its cultural and religious identity in a manner that encompasses universal human and social values, delivering a very touching message of hope, common fate, and faith.
Visit the Klezmatics on the web.
Personnel: The Klezmatics:Lorin Sklamberg- lead vocals, accordion; Frank London- trumpet, keyboard, organ, vocals; Matt Darriau- alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, vocals; Lisa Gutkin- violin, vocals; Paul Morrissett- bass, tsimbl, vocals; David Licht- drums, vocals
with guests: Joshua Nelson- lead vocals, piano, organ; Kathryn Farmer- lead vocals, piano, organ